Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: Law

BOND: It sounds like your own life. You teach, you're in the classroom. You're instructing students at the same time. You're representing clients really all over the country.

OGLETREE: That's exactly right, representing the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race riots and the reparations lawsuit from that devastating episode. I was Anita Hill's lawyer when she testified against Clarence Thomas and in the confirmation hearings in 1991. I represented the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton and Cornel West, Mike Espy when he was prosecuted here, Frank Carter, who many people don't know -- my first boss, was the public defender as Monica Lewinsky's first lawyer. I represented him when Kenneth Starr came after the lawyer to get his notes of interviewing with the client, which I thought was highly objectionable. And so there's case after case after case where my sense is that, it's not enough to just know the theory, and the concept of law. It's important to have your involvement in everyday aspects of the application of the law, and that's been very important. I represented the NAACP back in 1991 before Anita Hill, when Wade Henderson asked me to help write the report, a dispassionate and objective report on Clarence Thomas.

BOND: Exactly. And that helped shift some sentiment within the NAACP, which had been attracted to Thomas' blackness --

OGLETREE: That's exactly right.

BOND: -- as a quality --

OGLETREE: Exactly right.

BOND: -- and didn't know much or ignored his actual record.

OGLETREE: Right. I read his few opinions. I read his speeches, and law review articles he had written. And it was clear to me that even at that young age before he was a member of the court and even only had been on the D.C. Circuit Court for one year, he already had some dangerous ideas about originalism, about natural law and other ideological perspectives that I thought, as a scholar, were dangerous. And it was up to the NAACP to decide what it wanted to do, but they should at least know his record. John Hope Franklin also wrote a piece for that as well. But the whole goal was "I can't sit back at the academy and have these ideas and not try to service organizations like the NAACP to give them my view of what the record is so that they could make a decision about someone like Justice Thomas."

BOND: Well, believe me, it was much appreciated.

OGLETREE: Well, thank you.